Reflection for the Epiphany
Franciscans have a long history of standing in that gap between ‘us and them’, the periphery of things that become quite messy, especially for those who crave control. The many Franciscan martyrs give evidence to this very essence of our Franciscan vocation. Our seraphic father, St Francis, showed us this way when he entered the world of the Sultan in Egypt, the door of a world view foreign and exotic. It is only in a humble and respectful presence that Francis could bring the Sultan to gaze through the window towards a different vista, and another Way.
The epiphany really begins with the shepherds, unschooled and uninformed, yet called by angels. In today’s feast, we are taken in the opposite direction by the arrival of these foreigners from the east, Zoroastrians, Persians and Medes, astrologers, dream interpreters, and mystics. Beyond the forgotten gifts of ‘presence and acknowledgement,’ there are further gifts laid at the feet of the Godchild; gifts signifying wisdom, holy speech, and humility. This reminder of the words of Tertullian, ‘What has Jerusalem to do with Athens?’ This signifies the divide that exists between humanity’s thoughts (philosophy) and God’s Words (theology).
I think that many Christians are quite happy to see the back end of this group of foreigners, returning to their ‘own country’ with all their foreign ideas. But if we look more closely at their gifts presented to Jesus the Christ child, we can find how these can become gifts for us today also. It is in the nurturing of this same humility that we come to acknowledge that with all our strutting philosophy we do not have all the answers. It is not from a place of pride that we progress in our spiritual lives, what is needed is humility, wisdom, gentleness, and prayer.
We live in a world filled with mystery and paradox. Life, death, love, suffering and time itself, move within our consciousness without having any apparent need for our cooperation, classification, or consent. Our articulation and attempts at manipulations of these realities often appear like comical two-dimensional Bob trying to capture and explain a sunset of a multidimensional universe.
This desire for control is at the root of fear that fuels our angry paranoia, and our appetite for bad news. When paranoia grips our leaders, it is like a creeping pandemic that quickly consumes every strand of daily life. So it was at the time of Herod whose paranoia had spread to the population of Jerusalem, and so it is also today when fear and paranoiais spreading in so many countries around the world. This is the antithesis of the joy of the gospel of Jesus Christ that has at its heart a call to ‘metanoia’, the opposite of this world’s ‘paranoia’.
The contemplative practice of the mystic brings us into a direct awareness of presence, acknowledging the sacredness and beauty of all creation and of every being that shares in God’s great ‘I am’. Creation and being are a gift of God and so we recognise that each one of us is called to be gifts to each other as we are also called to be gifts to creation and all beings. It is not our cleverness, our learning, our achievements, or our status in society that give us intrinsic human dignity.
The Magi and their gifts point us ever deeper into the revelation, the revelation of the human face of God and the divine face of humanity. The revelation of Love incarnated. This is the wonderful divine imagination in which we, all the little ones, all the forgotten ones, all the untouchables, and all the despised, have our being. Through the Incarnation, the first become last, and the last become first.
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